Jeffrey J. Merrick is a professional interventionist and criminal defense attorney in Hollywood, California. Mr. Merrick specializes in the defense of mental health, drug and alcohol-related cases. His expertise is in care advocacy and alternative sentencing through the courts and he is a member of NII, the Network of Independent Interventionists, which means he is not affiliated with any treatment program. Here Mr. Merrick talks about advocacy for clients with legal problems and options for treatment. Mr. Merrick works to help clients receive alternative sentencing and explains the benefits of this and the challenges counseling professionals may face working with this special populations.
About Jeffrey J. Merrick, Esq. & His Work
Jeffrey J. Merrick is a professional interventionist and criminal defense attorney in Hollywood, California. He is a graduate cum laude of the University of San Diego School of Law, a practicing member of the California Bar since 1990 and a former trial lawyer for a national law firm. His undergraduate degree was with honors in Psychology and Literature & Writing from the University of California at San Diego.
Mr. Merrick specializes in the defense of mental health, drug and alcohol-related cases. His expertise is in care advocacy and alternative sentencing through the courts. He is a member of NII, the Network of Independent Interventionists, which means he is not affiliated with any treatment program.
Mr. Merrick is a well-known and respected member of the addictions professionals and recovery communities and routinely collaborates with some of the best programs and practitioners in the country. He brings to this work the many rewards and advantages of his own personal long-term recovery and stays invested in the success of his clients and their families.
Visit www.attorneymerrick.com for more information about Jeffrey J. Merrick, Esq. or help with alternative sentencing.
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Today, what I am asked here to talk about is just by way of introduction, when we’re dealing with families and with clients who have legal problems, families tend to be very myopic and focused just on that legal crisis. And in practice, what we know is that if we are just focusing on any one crisis in an affected loved ones life, we’re limiting ourselves. And we have to, in the same way that we want to make sure that we’re finding a treatment center that’s dealing with identified addiction or mental health issues and make sure that that’s a good placement. We want to make sure as well that if there’s an ongoing legal crisis that that be dealt with and contained and not just set aside. And often what we’re dealing with is we do an intervention, is that we have very resistant to treatment loved ones. We have families that are also not really focusing in a systemic or global way on the different parts of the unmanageable loved one’s life.
And I know for instance with Sober College, one of the things you’re learning is that we don’t have to take the educational component and set that aside, we have to integrate it, which is really wonderful because you’re not waiting for the person to grow and to become only to then get enthused about school. Often the school is making them enthused about their lives and about moving forward. In much the same way, the legal motivators, and the deadlines, and the calendar and the kind of the coordinated way that a case comes to good conclusion, is that we’re basically taking the motivators that are helping a client move forward and get that case resolved and advocating for the client’s care in a meaningful way. And that means that we want to get an aerial view on it pretty soon. And that means that we don’t need for people that are working with incoming families, it’s just good to not keep things separate. I think being as integrated and teamwork-motivated as possible is the key to success with this.
So the question is really, when we have a client in custody and we get a frantic phone call from a parent, sometimes it’s a spouse or an adult child with their parent in custody, and there’s something about clients in custody that just makes everyone kind of hallucinate and panic. And there’s all the fear of that loved one, especially the more codependent a family system is, there’s the fear of that loved one in jail. And what often happens too is that families forget that to a rational person being in custody might be enough to get it, to be willing to do the treatment that would help them stay out of jail and to get manage [SP] in their addiction.
The problem is that in terms of addiction, when we are bailing someone out with wishful thinking and without good safeguards and planning, what we often have is just enabling them to continue on the path. And so I don’t advocate that we have families leave their loved ones in jail. I think sometimes families get conflicting information in the recovery community. And as much as I love [inaudible 00:04:13], sometimes the message to someone who’s not very far along is that you do nothing, you let the person sit in jail as though there’s going to be a learning experience taking place.
My best outcomes come from getting someone very quickly out of custody, getting management of the legal crisis, but keeping at the forefront the need for treatment, because if we’re only winning in the courtroom and the person is losing in addiction, then we’re not really finding real freedom for that individual or for that family. So really, when you do have a family calling and their loved one is in custody, it’s important to bridge them to a skilled practitioner. I know I’m a good person to speak to if it’s a Southern California-based case. Or talk to anyone here in Sober College’s admissions and find out really, the nature of the legal crisis in relation to the ongoing drug and mental health crisis so that you’re not bailing someone out only to go back to active addiction.
Sometimes it’s a missed opportunity as well for intervention. And often what we’re counseling families to do is not get me or anyone like me, but get someone who’s able to work in terms of intervention, and get to, really, the heart of the matter, which is, “My loved one is having unmanageable behavior.” At this point it’s a legal crisis resulting in custody and bail concerns and threatened jail time. We need to create a treatment option, but we also have to set some intention and expectation around that client and motivate them to step into the solution. And so you want to really make sure that the family doesn’t get the message they need to go get a lawyer.
Often they need to talk to the treatment team and talk about an admission to treatment first, see if in health, the legal solution can wrap around the treatment, so that it can be an incentive to step into that space. Often we don’t use the word “intervention”, often it’s a mom going into the courthouse or the jail and having a conversation that’s uncomfortable to have with her son, or her husband or whoever’s in crisis, and explaining that, really, the help is limited to providing the treatment. If it’s someone coming to Sober College, you want to make sure that you can motivate that family to understand that their son or daughter might just be in a cycle where this is just one of many stays in jail. But the family gets to set some intention and say, “We love you too much. We feel like we’re losing you.” And what we are willing to do is give you a structured opportunity for change in the form of treatment. And if you are bailed out of custody, we’ll give you the legal help, we’ll give you capable assistance of council and we can definitely put your advocacy for ongoing care in front of the court, but we’re not going to do any of that unless you’re helping yourself.
And sometimes staying in custody is absolutely the best idea. I just think that we need to, really together, come together and talk about these issues before someone gets bailed out. I even work with bail bondsmen that are very pro-recovering, that will actually bail out someone even though they’re indignant, homeless and drug addicted, not good things as you can imagine for someone in custody who has to have surety and bond. But this set of bail people will actually contract directly with that person in custody if they’re going to treatment. So it incentivizes and maximizes it. So they’re actually bonded out to treatment not just to wherever, not to a family’s home and not to this kind of wishful thinking space that a lot of families have, so that when they’re in treatment, it becomes the designated address. And what we’ve seen over time is that people that have that address and have that bonding, actually have an incentive to stay when their addiction really tells them reasons to leave.
We’re really excited in terms of those of us that are practicing in the field. And California is really leading the way in terms of laws that reflect the policy of the legislature to really reward people in recovery, to incentivize them and as much as the jails are full and so much of the crime is related to substance and mental health. So what we have is diversion statutes and laws that basically are translating those policies into action. So for those individuals who are willing to step into treatment, there are incentives, and one of those big incentives is under Prop 36 NPC 1000 it’s called, which is basically a reflection of the policy that we reward people in their recovery rather than punish them in addiction. And the way that translates into court cases is that if we have non-violent drug offenses and theft under, I think it’s a $1,000, what we’ll have instead of criminal punishment at the end of the case is to have a diversion. And that means that we’re diverting the case from criminal justice system into treatment, creating treatment solutions, creating treatment episodes that basically with accountability and submission of plans of treatment to the court, advocate for clients’ ongoing care versus punishment. The end of the case on a diversion case, it means that a judgement that would otherwise be on the record or a conviction, which can really be radioactive for a client’s future is actually diverted, meaning that at the end of the day, those cases can be dismissed outright. The record can be sealed. And sometimes it’s very difficult with a resistant to treatment individual to step into treatment not knowing how this all works.
Again, it’s important to speak with a skilled practitioner or a skilled treatment center that’s used to dealing with the court. And the idea really is that we want to, when we’re working with families, let them understand that the court is actually easily realigned from punishment into favoring treatment. And most families we deal with and most individuals that actually are seeking treatment really benefit from having that extra accountability and those incentives at the end of the day and throughout a case. What it does take though, since it’s usually beyond the usual fare for a public defender or an individual going to court on his own, is to have skilled counsel that’s specializes, as I do, in alternative sentencing. And really that just refers to the alternatives we’re talking about, right? That means that we have alternatives to punishment. We come up with treatment favorable plans so that instead of spending that time in jail, they’re spending it growing and becoming responsible people in the community.
And when we’re able to come in as we do when we work together as a team, and I do work a lot with the treatment piece [SP], I’m not just someone who drops my client off when they have a legal case and calls you when you have to write a letter for court. I like to bring the best of the court motivation into my client’s treatment. And I like to bring treatment back into court, meaning that rather than just have a letter that says, “So and so was here at this treatment center for however long,” we want to have care advocacy, which is different than just verification of a treatment episode. And that means that we basically are going to make sure that the court understands that this individual is dealing with the issues that bring them before the court, that they are not just not re offending, that they’re actually moving forward in recovery and they’re becoming responsible people, especially when there’s a school component, courts love that.
When there’s 12-step recovery, even though clients tend to not like 12-step recovery, it’s something the courts love. And I see a lot of people that step into more meaningful recovery just because on one level, they’re trying to please the court, but really when we’re pleasing the court, we’re actually just trying to respond to the same concerns most families have, which is we have unmanageable behavior, we have someone we love that’s hurting themselves and potentially when we’re talking about criminal cases, there are victim concerns as well. And so usually when we’re having a short supply of motivation for this family or this individual to get into treatment, it’s powerful when we have a legal crisis that gets realigned in favor of these types of policies.
And my big message is that we don’t keep them in separate departments. Sometimes I’ll get calls from someone in admissions who knows about a warrant that my client has or a bond that prevents them from leaving the treatment center and unfortunately that wasn’t communicated to the rest of the treatment team. So that’s not real helpful when your loved one has run off. And when it could have been a conversation as simple as, “Hey, you know what, you’re site restricted. You’re either here or you’re in custody,” and have that clinical moment that we hope for, which is to have a conversation about where their recovery and where legal crisis kind of meet. And rather than it being a threatening situation or one that’s compartmentalized, have it integrated with the treatment team. And then I think it’s also important for the court to have real picture of what this person is doing in treatment and how they’re succeeding, because if we’re doing that, we’re not just pleasing the court, we’re actually helping our clients succeed, we’re helping them see good value in their treatment, we’re just having the family peace come in as well.
Often we’re seeing how families have realigned and become healthy around the person that is in treatment. And we’re presenting things that are beyond just the four corners of treatment as well. Hopefully when we’re doing is, we’re letting the client know that we’re together in this and helping them shine, not just in court, but where their real freedom is, which is in recovery.
In terms of advice for people that are just starting their career and working with people in recovery, first off, I have a great deal of respect for anyone that’s working the recovery field. I actually fell in love with working with families and back in love with my practice in my own recovery and in my own treatment. And I was a professional who couldn’t help himself. I was someone who had serious drug issues, which is not what you’d want for your drug lawyer at the time. But I can tell you that in recovery, we get re-purposed and we get to meet people along the way that are able to motivate us.
And I know that in terms of intervention, which is really just an invitation to change. And it’s an invitation that I’m sure has been given by the time we’re talking, to a family that needs intervention. It’s one that’s been given again and again. And usually the families that we deal with kind of get a bad rap in the recovery community because it’s almost as though codependency’s been criminalized. And we have this idea that there’s this concept of loving someone too much. I’ve never met a family member who loved too much. I know that by the time we are meeting, that they’re in a lot of pain, that they’ve done their best.
And so part of for our work to be effective is that we have to see that the family needs to be considered as a client as well and that this family system, while we have to get motivated to help their loved one, we cannot leave the family system out anymore than we leave scholastics out, if there’s a program that has a scholastic piece, or we’re going to leave court out if there’s a legal piece anymore than we just focus on legal when someone has identified disorder, I often have to actually be part of systemic change by explaining to that client, “I would love to help you, but in terms of what’s being described, you really need treatment.” And if the professionals in your life are telling you you need treatment, your family is, and the court needs this to have a better outcome, then it’d be best for you to do that, to focus on that, and then we can really help each other in court because you can give me what I need to get a great result, and you can get what you need to get your real freedom, which is in recovery.
So in terms of people that are on the front lines of this and are taking those phone calls and dealing with these families, my heart really goes out because it challenges us to be bigger people and to look at this in a more meaningful way. And it also, if we’re doing this in a systemic way, then what we’re seeing is it’s not just a family that needs to recover or a loved that needs to recover, it’s the family system that needs to recover. When that system begins to make change, often what we’re seeing is that the most resistant to treatment loved one is willing to step into a recovery solution that the family’s already attached to. That’s why when I am working in intervention, and often as lawyer as well, what I really need to do engage with that family over time and make sure that they’re not left out and that they’re motivated to understand this is not just about shipping your loved one off for repair somewhere, it’s about really taking this as an opportunity for growth and change.
And so if you’re going to model behavior for your loved one, it starts with actually stepping into solutions your loved ones might have no interest in. And it might actually mean that you have faith in connecting and touring with the treatment center, even though your loved one’s in custody, even though your loved one says, “I will never go to treatment,” so that you can create a compassionate space for them to step into. And my direct experience too is that if we can help the family stay attached to the solution, which is going to be treatment, and it might be their own recovery as well, we have to often recommend that they, as family members, get their own help with professionals, with organizations like Al-Anon or some of the codependency workshops. And there’s great options throughout the country for that.
One of the things I love about most good treatment centers including Sober College is that the family programming is really solid, and that people don’t look at this anymore as just the identified loved one needing the help, therefore the system recovers. It’s actually the case that if only a son or a daughter or a parent go off and do their recovery and things don’t change at home, that we have a lot less meaningful change over time.
What I encourage anyone to do who’s interested in knowing a little bit more about how we can help a loved one in crisis, whether that crisis is a legal crisis or an intervention indicated situation, meaning that no matter how hard you’ve tried to reach your loved one, they have very low expectations and they don’t want to hear it anymore. And it might seem, especially best friends might even be telling you it’s time to let go, this person needs to experience bottom. The reality is, especially when we’re dealing with mental health, and narcotics addiction, and kind of the crazy ways that addiction and mental health can conspire to take away people we love, it’s important that you work with professionals and you work with treatment people, and you go and you see the treatment center that you can see your loved one thriving in even if they can’t see it for themselves, and that you really move into a solution of recovery for that loved one, so that you can see your family actually having some freedom around this thing. And part of that begins when we’re able to consult and talk about, often with me as you can imagine, it’s a legal crisis that prompts the first phone call.
Sometimes the last thing you need is a lawyer, right? Sometimes what I really need you to understand is that you can be the care advocate with your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife, your parent and you can speak from the heart about what’s really going on with you. And even if they’re not done, by the time we’re talking, you’re pretty much done. And I want to help you be done. And by that I mean we’re never going to say that you’re done with that person or done with loving them, but you’re going to be done with the dance that you’re doing and the arguing.
Hopefully when we work together, you realize early on that we do not need to argue anymore about wellness. Wellness is for everyone and it really is something that we spend a lot of time arguing about. And the reality is that we can move someone to accept change, whether it be with a legal crisis or a drug, alcohol, mental health crisis. And sometimes what I really need to know and to communicate to you is that just because I’m in recovery doesn’t mean I have every answer. But together we get to find the solution and we get to work as a team, and a family that works as a team is a lot stronger in how they invite their loved one to step into the help that they need. And it’s a powerful thing when we can do that together. And I hope that when we do get a chance to speak, that we can enlarge the conversation and make sure it stays heart-centered. I can you I’ve never once told a family to give up on their loved one, but we almost always have to talk about giving up on the ways that your loved one’s giving up on himself or herself.
So together, what we get to do is really come together, build a team, make sure that the conversation stays loving and firm, but that really, when it comes to necessary help, we don’t have to fumble around for our voices. We can give the uncomfortable truth to someone we love without having the idea that it’s less love. And ideally when we’re working together, we’re able to discuss, really, what moves your loved one, what moves you and really where this situation can move to a much more positive resolution, and that’s whether it’s in the courts. Often it begins when your loved one’s in jail and it seems that really there’s no way out. That’s often when we can talk about new beginnings and work towards that together.